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The Mediterranean World
Arnold Asrelsky
April 24th - June 21st, 2009
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The Mediterranean World:  Theme and Variations

Arnold Asrelsky’s photographs are of buildings, streets and architectural sites.  They are from his travels around the Mediterranean world of Greece, the Greek islands, Italy and Sicily. However, they are not merely ‘tourist’ snapshots pictured large. There is an ‘eye’ here for shape, color, light and dark—in short—for design. The selective eye creates images transformed into artfulness, thus achieving a transposition of the ordinary.

Art takes the prosaic and transports, transforms, and transfigures it. The representational nature of pictorial art is deceptive. In successful representational art an underlying abstraction is revealed in a heightened, emphasized manner. The artist looks at the world with an eye sensitive to design: line, shape, color, value, texture make up a compositional vocabulary that reveals the abstract design of a photograph or painting.  Modern technology and digital printing have enlarged the photographer’s vocabulary. Color enhancement or diminution, greater facility in cropping, burning and dodging lead to a further enhancement of the artifice of the photograph, giving it more of that freedom enjoyed and employed by the painter. This is what art is all about.

Asrelsky’s work reveals a fascination with the Mediterranean city that has grown organically over a long period of time as contrasted with more modern cities that grow from a central rational plan that disregards the landscape in which they are embedded and creates an environment of uniformity where nothing surprises or delights the eye. On the contrary, his work emphasizes the charm and beauty of the cities and villages of the past.  Their meandering lanes following natural contours, the variety of the houses lining these streets, their oddly arranged doors and windows, their muted colors and varied textures, the play of light and shade created by the unique Mediterranean sun  provide him with the materials of composition. Within these compositions he seeks to bring to light the abstract design embodied in his subject matter.

The Hotel Aphrodite on Samos is a good example of his use of color and shape. The composition is built up of squares (planes of many colors) giving a cubist-like effect similar to what one might see in a Hans Hoffman painting in which he uses both the primary and secondary colors and variations thereof.

A strong sense of pattern is created by the houses and buildings of Naples where the repetitions of black, white, yellow and red create a dense and pleasing texture. The cemetery in Sicily in muted colors creates a dense, all-over pattern with a strong sense of rhythm.  

A street in Patmos shows  white walls against stark gray shadows while blue windows repeated in the composition relieve the abstract starkness and austerity of the basic composition to create a sense of elegant restraint.

The blue and white house on a Samos street is characterized by strong horizontal and vertical planes that dominate the composition.  The shuttered windows and alcoves against its white walls set off a pleasing dialogue between positive and negative spaces.

The pictures of Trastevere in Rome with their winding streets and lush orange, yellow and ochre facades epitomize the architecture of this part of the world.

These few hints are meant to provide a key to the compositional themes that run throughout Asrelsky’s work and which impart to his subject matter its  force, cogency and beauty.  I now invite the viewer to make his or her own discoveries among these powerful photographs.

John Hawkins

Professor Emeritus,
Queensborough Community College

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